Perhaps you’ve seen them throughout the vast macrocosm of TikTok, or maybe you’ve seen them gooblin’ around Meow Wolf’s Convergence Station. Wherever you may have spotted them, who the heck are the GABBAGOOBLINS? And no, they are not the next iteration of #goblincore — they are so much more...
The GABBAGOOBLINS are the brain children of local Denver filmmaker Joe Cappa, and they are played by Denver Comedy Troupe ‘Phantasmagoria.’ We sat down with Joe to have a serious conversation about who these Skittle-hued, long babied, off-brand Teletubbies are.
Who are the GABBAGOOBLINS? How the heck did they come to be?
GABBAGOOBLINS is a rogue television signal sent from another dimension. It's a 10-minute children's show that follows a nomadic tribe of three adult infants who travel around their home planet in a giant GABBABUNNY. Each episode introduces a bizarre land where the GABBAGOOBLINS stop and rest, but are also tasked to find nourishment to fuel their cuddly mode of transportation. Of course, they have help from the omnipresent CLOUD MAN. He teaches them how to grow strange, new fruits to feed their GABBABUNNY... who in turn provides the GABBAGOOBLINS with sweet milk and a soft place to nap. It almost feels like this video signal is being sent with some dark ulterior motive, but (it’s) nearly impossible to decipher. After the success of “Ghost Dogs,” J.W. (Hallford) and I were trying to think of a follow-up short film. “Ghost Dogs” is an animated tale about a rescue puppy discovering its new home is haunted by the family's deceased pets. So the initial germ of the idea was about a baby being haunted by a lime design on a neighbor's shirt. Like, the baby is being picked up by this annoying lady and she is wearing this hypnotic shirt with a smiling lime pattern printed all over it.
Because our protagonist is a baby, he starts seeing this lime man at night and has to save his own skin, like Kevin McCallister in “Home Alone.” So the themes were in a similar vein as “Ghost Dogs,” but the film would be live action with costumes, puppets, and all sorts of practical effects. For the sake of an ending, I thought it'd be funny if characters from some made-up children's show jumped out of the TV to save the day. Then we just slowly fell in love with those characters. I started to expand the universe with hypotheticals and it just created more and more questions. Who made this children's show? Where do the Gabbagooblins come from? What do they eat? It was just so intriguing to figure out what their television show would be like. Another hobby of mine is making weird papier-mâché heads. So I just started making these Gabbagooblin heads and the look of their heads sort of informed the rest of the story.
What is your background and how did you get into doing animation and video production?
I'm a cinematographer first and foremost. I learned the basics of motion graphics at an ad agency in Oklahoma City, where I was predominantly a shooter/editor. I was making “At The Beach” commercials, haha. If you know, you know. About 9 years ago I decided to go off on my own and teach myself animation. My entire stint in Denver has been me slowly trying to get away from doing advertising work and just trying to make funny stuff for myself. That's why I gravitated toward animation. You can tell any story you want for seemingly no money at all... just a lot of man hours.
Thankfully, I've never had much of a social life. I quickly discovered I could hole up in a basement for months at a time to make music videos and corporate video infographics. It wasn't until I randomly decided to drive to Boulder at 9 p.m. that my trajectory as an artist altered course. I was walking Ramona (my dog) around the CU (University of Colorado Boulder) campus when I heard music. The Grateful Dead was playing a show at the stadium and I knew a guy from high school was touring around with them. I hit him up on Instagram and we met up that night. He said he was interested in getting into the animation world and wanted to produce something together. Long story short, J.W. Hallford and I decided on a short I was cooking up called “Ghost Dogs.” I bought a book on character animation and rented out an office space and worked on that freaking thing for the next 2 years. “Ghost Dogs” miraculously got into Sundance in 2021… which still sounds insane to me every time I mention it — which I try to do in any conversation I have with anyone. I had shot feature films for friends and stuff before, but I never really considered myself a storyteller. I think that experience just boosted my confidence and I saw what was possible if I just put myself out there. I started making short 1-minute cartoons on Instagram, and then people started reaching out from there.
Who are your art heroes that you always go back to for inspiration and who continue to guide you?
Mike Judge, Marc M, Jarrad Wright
Can you actually describe each GABBAGOOBLIN and their characteristics? I actually would love to know what one eats, or dreams of at night.
Yeah, so the pink one is pretty much the leader, if you can call him that. He just generates the most body heat because he's the biggest, so you definitely want him around when you're napping. The purple one is the baby of the group, if you can call him that. He's sweet and sensitive and needs the most coddling. The orange one is sort of the feistiest. She's curious and sticks her nose in everything. So, naturally, she scrapes her knees a lot. They all drink milk produced by their GABBABUNNY. I don't know what they dream of, but that's a great question. I'm going to think about that.
What are your hopes and dreams for the GABBAGOOBLINS?
Last summer, I made a sizzle reel in the hopes of securing funding for the GABBAGOOBLINS short film. I hired my friends at Phantasmagoria, LLC to put on the costumes and play the Gabbagooblins in my backyard in front of a green screen. Once the video was all edited together, I really saw the potential of what an actual Gabbagooblins TV show could be. So my aim now is to make a series with these goofballs. I'm currently doing something with Adult Swim in hopes of gaining interest, and Meow Wolf has been an amazing resource in generating buzz! The GABBAGOOBLINS recently made a surprise visit to Meow Wolf on a busy Saturday night, and I couldn't have thought of a better way to gauge public interest than having them play around Convergence Station to an excited crowd. People were demanding more GABBAGOOBLINS!
What advice would you give to young/aspiring filmmakers?
If you want to make your own stuff — like, not for anyone else — I think it's hard to find that motivation when there's the incredible risk of going broke. I sort of lived with that anxiety my entire adulthood. At some point, I really saw no future in what I was doing for other people. I had no endgame. And at the same time, I had no endgame for making my own crap. So at the end of the day the only option you have is just to follow the bliss. Ignore the doubt. You make the sacrifices, and you take the risk to follow your own bliss. It's such a yogi thing to say and I don't really feel qualified to give career advice like that, but it's currently working for me and it's something I wish I did sooner!
Joe Cappa is a filmmaker based in Denver. To see more of Joe’s work follow him on Instagram or check out his website.